The Adaptable Muffin

mmm pumpkin muffins
I had lunch with my parents over the weekend and the first thing my mom did after saying "hello" was hand me a gift: an advent calendar. Sure advent is a month and a half away, but I was raised with and around a special zeal for celebrating holidays.

My birthday in September kicks off my personal Holiday Season. Then comes Halloween and while I do enjoy dressing up, I also enjoy capitalizing on the flavors of fall from October through Thanksgiving. And what says "fall" more than pumpkin? Sadly, pumpkin and I broke up last year. Happily, we've reconciled.

In an effort to more fully embrace Autumn 2009, I bought a pie pumpkin at the Farmer's Market and decided I wouldn't stoop to the level of canned pumpkin, I would make a pie with an actual pumpkin. I spent all day cutting, cleaning and cooking the pumpkin. Making it into mash, making a crust, par baking the crust, assembling and baking the pie, making little foil crust shields when the edges started to burn before the filling was set. All day. All. Day. And when--exhausted, dirty--I cut myself a slice and gave it a try... it was disgusting. I think I may have cried. I don't want to think about it anymore.

For Autumn 2010, I've been buying pumpkin at the rate of two cans a week. I told you about the pumpkin cupcakes with brown butter frosting... man, those were good. Today, I have something a bit healthier (kind of, maybe... there is no frosting involved, anyway).

When I first got Tivo, I used it to subscribe to Mark Bittman's "The Minimalist" videos. I've completely forgotten how I set that up, but thankfully the videos keep coming. One week, it was Grandma Starchild's Whole Wheat Muffins: a pretty basic muffin recipe that uses whole wheat (duh) instead of all purpose flour and the fruit mush of your choice. I think Mark (we're on a first name basis) used mashed banana in his, but I used pumpkin. Ignore the fact that the recipe calls for half a stick of butter and you can feel pretty self-righteous about eating one of these in the morning. But don't ignore the butter while you are baking.

Preheat the oven to 375 and grease or line with paper cups two 6-cup muffin tins. In a large bowl, mix together 3/4 to 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet your mush is), 2 teaspoons of baking power, 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour. Mark suggests whole wheat pastry flour, because it's finer than the regular stuff. I only had the regular stuff, so I ground it a bit in several batches in a clean coffee grinder. I'm not sure if that made a difference, but it was kind of fun.

In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup of melted butter with 1 cup of mush (banana, pumpkin, sweet potato, pear, applesauce, whaddya got?), 1/2 c of buttermilk (I don't use enough buttermilk to keep it in the fridge regularly. Instead, when I need some, I add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let it sit for about 10 minutes.) and an egg. I just realized I forgot to add the egg. Well, none of us is perfect. And apparently, this recipe can stand to lose the egg.

Fold the wet ingredients gently into the dry ingredients just until combined. It's ok if there are still some lumps and that is preferable to over-mixing. For some extra fallish flavor, I added a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice and a healthy teaspoon and a half of vanilla bean paste, my new favorite thing.

Divide the batter into your 12 muffin cups and for this I really recommend using a spring-loaded scoop. I have a large scoop for cookie dough, muffins/cupcakes and ice cream and a smaller one for smaller stuff. They make transferring batter so much easier and they give you nice uniform cookies.

Bake the muffins for about 25 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden brown on top. I've been grabbing one of these to nom as I walk to the subway in the morning and they keep me full until lunch. Thank you Grandma Starchild. And thank you Mark Bittman. As for me, I'm far from done celebrating fall with pumpkin (canned!) and other seasonal ingredients. Check in later this week to read about my least favorite job and most favorite pumpkin scones. And next week: it's all about apples.